Stuart Stead

Place Skills | Artisan tastes

My route into the property market really came through the indomitable property developer Carol Ainscow of Artisan, writes Stuart Stead, partner in property and construction at Cowgill Holloway.

A woman unafraid to speak her mind or ruffle feathers, Carol barnstormed through the male-dominated property world of the 1990s and became one of my first clients in the sector. She had a significant influence on my career direction.   

Having joined Cowgills in 2001 I began to work with Carol and her company Artisan. At the time, she had already opened Manto, the first properly open gay bar on Canal Street, and was also hugely influential in starting the revival of Ancoats. That began with Artisan’s involvement with the Express Building on George Leigh Street and latterly a number of other schemes in Ancoats with Peel and Manchester City Council. 

Her visionary approach to property development really helped to kick-start the Northern Quarter revival and I was lucky enough to be involved with that at the early stages.  

While still a partner at Cowgills, I had a spell in-house at Artisan from 2008 to 2010. I was helping Carol through the worst of the financial crash, which of course decimated so many property companies.  

That challenging time gave me such an insight into Carol’s world as a woman in property and the financial problems that the company faced. This experience helped me understand the strain that running a business can put on the owner. I doubt that many other property and construction accountancy specialists have had the opportunity to gain such experience first hand. She had huge vision and was certainly influential in kick-starting my career in the property sector.   

Today my team at Cowgills mainly works with owner-managed property and construction companies and housebuilders across the North West and I believe that my early experience with Carol was instrumental in that becoming a focus. I witnessed first hand the problems people face daily in running a business, and that has had a huge impact on how I am able to advise our clients today. 

Carol sadly died suddenly in 2013. She was the kind of person you could love one minute and then have a serious falling out with the next, but she absolutely left an impression with everyone she met.

Never one for convention, she’d turn up to serious meetings in jeans and flip flops and absolutely didn’t care. She hated lifts so we always had to use the stairs. I recall at least one meeting where there was a couple of dozen flights! I liked that rebellious streak and think we need to see more of it in the next generation of property people.  

She knew how to get things done, had both vision and plenty of northern grit, and showed that women can be hugely successful in the property world. 

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